The New Civics ECSP Story So Far:
Defining ‘New Civics’ and Contributing to the Field
by Helen Haste
The New Civics agenda guides the Spencer Foundation’s support for our Early Career Scholars’ Program and we hope to contribute significantly to it. This agenda challenges the conventional emphasis on civic action as primarily voting behavior, and also disrupts the assumption that its antecedents are largely in the formal school environment. New Civics work has massively expanded the definition of participation. It has widened questions about the origins of active participation (and of alienation): What information is important, beyond civic knowledge? What salient skill and efficacy-building experiences happen beyond the democratic classroom? Our Early Career Scholars’ work in internship teams and dissertation projects has contributed to these valuable developments, as the website demonstrates.
We are seeing a sea-change, a shift of perspective. ‘Expanding’ a field or topic can be just ‘adding on’ – rich, but not necessarily transformative. For a field truly to expand, it is essential to see things differently.
How does immersing ourselves in a field do this? Our ECSP Scholars’ reflections on their experiences are attached. Five themes in their accounts reflect transformations. The five themes are:
- conceptualizing community,
- how identity is central,
- the radical civic and cultural impact of new media,
- the reality and origins of ‘civic skills’,
- what institutional structures and groups should we be targeting?
In each case, our Scholars’ work challenges some prior assumptions in the field.